Towera Kumwenda no longer endures uncertainties waiting for subsidised fertiliser and seed.
The former beneficiary of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) for needy Malawians has become a self-sustaining commercial farmer.
The mother-of-four, from Chikayanga Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwankhunikira in Rumphi, mostly uses manure in her crop fields.
She has been a subsistent farmer since she married in 1985. For years, she could not harvest enough to feed her family.
“The situation got worse when my husband died in 2002. I struggled to raise money for my children’s school fees and basic needs single-handedly. I couldn’t afford a bag of fertiliser,” she recalls.
Not any longer.
Kumwenda’s family stopped living hand-to-mouth in the 2005/06 growing season when the government introduced Fisp to lift needy smallholder farmers out of hunger and poverty.
Then, the widow received two bags of fertiliser which put her on a path to become a successful farmer in her community.
“I sat down with my children and we decided to grow tobacco on a one-acre field. We produced 10 bales. Unfortunately, tobacco prices were so low that we earned K200 000 only,” she recalls.
The family invested some of the money in tobacco farming and opened a grocery shop with the remainder.
In fact, she hired two tenants to grow tobacco, while family members grew food crops.
“The gamble paid off,” she says. “We realised K1 million after selling 22 bales of tobacco. We bought a cow. Our initial plan was to resell the cow for a profit, but we changed our minds. We then decided to buy an ox-cart which other farmers would hire.”
The following year, proceeds from tobacco jumped to around K3million.
The family, which could not buy fertiliser, now owns a car, a van and 20 head of cattle. The animals produce manure which keeps her crops green and high-yielding.
The Kumwendas are building a decent self-contained house.
Interestingly, the family has adopted climate-smart agriculture to increase yield amid dry spells, erratic rains and other effects of climate change.
The new farming techniques, including the use of manure and water harvesting, retain and improve soil fertility and moisture.
“The world has changed, we no longer receive enough rains,” she says.
Use of homemade manure is performing wonders in her barren fields.
“My garden does not dry up during dry spells because I use organic manure which keeps moisture. This prevents crops from wilting,” she says.
Twelve years after the launch of Fisp, Kumwenda has become a model farmer, a go-to person for those keen to learn new farming methods.
“She started humbly. She is not only hardworking and daring but also a resourceful person. When extension workers introduce new farming techniques, she willingly adopts it. We are learning a lot from her, especially the importance of livestock and modern crop farming practices such as the use of organic manure,” says Glory Ng’oma from Mkombezi.
Rumphi district agriculture development officer Lumbani Msiska is impressed with Kumwenda’s breakaway from hunger and poverty.
“Kumwenda is the type of farmers we want. She realised the importance of Fisp, which is empowering subsistence farmers who cannot afford chemical fertilisers,” he says.
Msiska commends Kumwenda’s zeal to adopt new farming methods introduced by the Department of Agriculture and non-governmental organisations in the area.
“For instance, she makes Mbeya, a mixture of animal manure and chemical fertiliser, which helps her realise bumper harvests even in times of drought,” he says.
Msiska asks farmers to change their attitude to reap full benefits of Fisp.
“Agricultural extension is like adult learning. You have two types of people: early adopters like Kumwenda and late adopters. Some take up new ideas instantly and practise them while late adopters always wait for other people’s results to confirm that the new concept is working,” he explains.
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